Mountain West Basketball: New Mexico vs. Boise State–Preview, Odds, Prediction
Lobos, Broncos meet in massive MWC clash
https://twitter.com/coachmosser & @MWCwire
What: New Mexico Lobos (20-7, 7-7) @ Boise State Broncos (21-6, 11-3)
When: Wednesday, February 22nd – 8:30 MT
Where: ExtraMile Arena; Boise, ID
How To Watch: FS1
Odds: Boise State -6 Over/Under 145
Less than two weeks remain before conference tournament time, and on Wednesday night we get a rematch of one of the top games in all of the 2022-23 college basketball year, when New Mexico heads north to take on Boise State. There are postseason implications in play for both teams, as well as the matter of the Broncos being right in the thick of the regular season Mountain West championship.
Back to that first meeting for a minute. 40 minutes was not enough to decide a winner between two exceptional basketball teams that played at an incredibly high level the entire night. Throw in a buzzer-beating three-pointer by the visitors, after some great use of timeouts by head coach Leon Rice, and then another near buzzer beater by the home team, on a perfectly executed out-of-bounds play, and you have a game that showcased all the good things about college basketball. The men with the whistles stayed out of the way (not always easy for MWC refs), and the game was decided by shot making. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a repeat of that in this one.
That night was really the high-water mark of the Lobos season, as it was the 4th of four consecutive great efforts and wins – Oral Roberts, at San Diego State, and San Jose State being the other ones. They proceeded to drop 5 out of their next 6 games, before getting off the schneid Friday night in San Jose. More than the wins and losses though, has been how the product has looked on the court in some of those games. And aside from the two last second losses to Nevada, the best word to describe the other three losses is disengaged. To be fair, likely all-conference first teamer Jaelen House missed two of those games; but a team that was the last unbeaten in the country, and one with NCAA tournament aspirations, should not completely go sideways without one player, no matter how important he is. House returned for the win over the Spartans a few days ago, and UNM looked like the team we saw the first half of the year. Was that a one off, or are the Lobos back to being the top-25 team of December? We’ll get a good glimpse into our answer on Wednesday night.
Boise State has won 6 of 7 since that loss in The Pit, and in fact won five straight prior to that game, which of course explains why they are only one game behind San Diego State in the race for the MW regular season title. The only loss in that stretch was a 20 point humbling in San Diego to those first-place Aztecs. Star point guard Marcus Shaver didn’t play in the game, and there was some early foul trouble for BSU that night, but from the jump it was all SDSU. We’ll find out in a week’s time if it’s simply a bad matchup for the Broncos as the two have their own rematch in Boise. In the meantime, there is no reason to overreact to that one result, as over the course of a 30-35 game season, you’re going to have a couple times where it’s just not your night, and that may very well have been the case that Friday. Plus, the three subsequent games have been standard, consistent Boise State basketball, and given no reason for long-term concern.
The Broncos do most things well, and some things really well. They are extremely balanced offensively, with all five starters averaging double figures, and though they are not as deep as some top teams, they have gotten solid contributions lately from Jace Whiting and Lukas Milner off the bench. If there is one area they could shore up, it’s their 3-point defense, as Colorado State and UNLV have been in one possession games with Boise State the last two times out primarily because they have made three-pointers at a clip far surpassing their season average. Last Wednesday the Rams shot a super high 13-22 from deep, and the Rebels made 11 over the weekend. In truth, the defense hasn’t been poor on the perimeter; many of those shots were tightly guarded, and on top of that, several were made by what Leon Rice and his staff would consider non-shooters, shots you’ll gladly give up. It is a small sample size, but the Broncos may be owed some positive shooting regression from their opponents in the near future.
Fortunately for BSU, the three-point shot is not a massive weapon for New Mexico. Their star studded backcourt of House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. can take and make them, but Mash prefers to operate off the dribble and in the mid-range, where he is as good as anyone in the country. House is at his best when he’s in the open floor, leading a fast break, and creating offense from defense. While his 17 ppg were certainly missed, what the Lobos really needed from him was his leadership. They looked like a rudderless unit against Air Force and Wyoming, two teams still playing hard, but at or near the bottom of the conference standings. It was also a massive confidence boost for his teammates to know that their leader was back on the court. You could see it in the way they played, the way they shot the ball, and the way they defended. That last point is the key moving forward for UNM, as they were carved up by the Falcons and Cowboys, and by Utah State as well going back a few weeks. With a tough 4-game stretch to close out the regular season ahead, and 3 wins likely necessary to make the NCAA tournament, New Mexico will have to become more consistent defensively.
The million dollar question for this game is ‘Are the Lobos back’? The answer isn’t as simple as a yes if they win and a no if they lose. There are two teams on the court/floor/field/ice, and the opponent here matters. Boise State seems to be undersold a bit, maybe because they don’t have a lot of signature wins, or maybe because they laid an egg when they visited SDSU. The thought here is that they are better than most give them credit for. New Mexico got their swagger back just in time for the stretch run, but this will not be an easy task – going on the road to face a team looking for a little payback from the first matchup. The Lobos already have two massive road victories this season (St. Mary’s, San Diego St), can they make it three? Expect this one to go down to the wire before the home team makes one or two more winning plays in the late stages, and seals it with free throws.
Prediction: Boise State 73 New Mexico 66